FAMILY: Wife, Karen, married 17 years; son, Austin, 12
RIG: 2001 Freightliner Century Mid-Roof XT
CAREER: 20 years in trucking, 10 years as an owner-operator
FREIGHT: General flatbed
ACCIDENT-FREE: More than 1 million miles
Today Henry Albert of Statesville, N.C., is a successful independent owner-operator, but some of the lessons he applies daily come from another type of driving altogether. Every weekend from 1985 to 1989, Albert raced stock cars at the Port Royal Speedway in Port Royal, Pa. In 1988, he won 10 of the 20 races in which he competed, finished in the top three of the rest, won a street stock car division championship – and, not incidentally, got married. Albert calls it the best year of his life.
The Alberts moved to Charlotte, N.C., in 1989 so that Henry could enter NASCAR sporting divisions, but competitors with bigger budgets soon sent him to the pit permanently. “Somehow things like saving money for my child’s college and paying for a house took precedent over that, but I do still miss it.”
Racing did, however, leave him with valuable lessons for running a business. In his championship year, for example, Albert drove a 1973 Capri, while most of his opponents drove Camaros and Chevelles. “I’ve always liked doing things differently,” he says. “If you do things the same way as everyone else, you can only be as good as they are.”
Racing also taught him to set realistic goals. His goal when he first started was simply to finish the race. When Albert launched his owner-operator business a decade ago, he kept his ambitions similarly modest.
“When we first started, I would only run the 500 miles between Philadelphia and Charlotte,” Albert says. “Now, I run anywhere from Florida to Massachusetts. I stay mostly along the same corridor all the time. I know where the best places to buy fuel are. I know where to park. I know all the alternative routes if there is any trouble on the road. I get to know the traffic patterns and what time is good to go through a city.”
Albert enjoys cultivating customers across his region, which is one reason brokers account for less than 10 percent of his business. “If you deal with brokers, you’re lucky to see the same person more than once or twice.”
Always working in a dress shirt and tie, sometimes arriving at the customer’s office early to drop off a box of doughnuts, Albert tries to remind clients they come first.
“I know every shipper has a customer that always has problems and always complains,” Albert says. Those are the customers he wants, so that he eventually can win them over.
Albert started trucking 20 years ago when he was a manager for Weaver Chicken. “A driving job came open, and I took it,” he says. He enjoyed driving for Weaver, which left him free for racing on weekends, but he tired of having no control over his career.
Albert says he finally decided it was time to make money for himself. He and his wife, Karen, bought a truck and launched a business. “At first we just had to work it. Now it is just word of mouth.”
Word of mouth recommended Albert to Andy Payne, owner of Payne Landscaping in Ellicott City, Md. Albert has hauled Christmas trees for Payne for the past six years, and Payne, in turn, has recommended Albert to others. “When he tells me he’s going to be there, he’s going to be there,” Payne says.
Albert demonstrates the best image of trucking, says Angel Burnell, an executive assistant at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
“He knows the costs of his operations, and he only takes loads that are going to pay him,” Burnell says.
Albert says he didn’t have great management skills when he became an independent, so he contacted the U.S. Small Business Administration office in Charlotte, N.C.
“The most important question they asked me was, ‘What’s your backup plan?’ And I said I would use brokers,” Albert says. “Then they asked, ‘What’s your backup to your backup plan?'” Albert decided he would lease to someone if he could find work no other way.
“I’m not a rocket scientist,” Albert says. “If I can make it, anyone can.”
FIRST TRUCK: 1996 Freightliner FLD 120.
MOST UNUSUAL LOAD: The engine for a Lockheed C-130 Hercules plane. They would let you haul only one at a time, and you had to fully tarp it. But I got paid $450 for 45 miles.
UNUSUAL PLACES I HAVE HAULED: To Quantico, Va., with a guard in the truck. It was a load of chain link fence.
FAVORITE STATE TO DRIVE IN: Ohio. I never have to hit the brakes because everyone is going faster than me.
WORST CITY TO DRIVE IN: Washington, D.C.
BEST THING ABOUT TRUCKING: It’s like having an office job but with a better view.
FAVORITE MOVIE: We Were Soldiers.
FAVORITE TV SHOW: Everybody Loves Raymond.
GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Being married for 17 years.
MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: I went past a stop and ended up on a road you couldn’t back out on.
IF I HADN’T BEEN A TRUCKER: I would be a race car driver.
HOPES FOR THE FUTURE: To retire and be physically fit enough to be able to enjoy it.
MOTTO: Second place is first loser.
–Lance Orr and Brittani Tingle
Do you know an exemplary owner-operator with 15 years of trucking experience and an excellent safety record? Write to Steven Mackay, Overdrive, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403, or e-mail email@example.com. Honorees are considered for Trucker of the Year.